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Multi-million dollar Community Planned For Young Adults With Autism

January 25, 2017

By Mendy Hecht, Hamaspik Gazette

Multi-million dollar Community Planned For Young Adults With Autism


Retired husband-and-wife doctors Debra Caudy and husband Clay Heighten of Texas are planning to build what is believed to be the nation’s first community for people with autism.


The $12 million community, on nearly 29 acres, will be built on land that was formerly a polo ranch in the Denton County town of Cross Roads.


It will include 15 homes, a community center and access to a ‘transitional academy’ that is designed to help young adults with autism develop skills to live and work independently.


Dr. Heighten, a retired emergency physician, and Dr. Caudy, a retired medical oncologist, are leading the project.


The inspiration is their 19-year old son, Jon, who is on the severe end of the autism spectrum and requires a high level of supportive care, recently reported disability news outlet Disability Scoop.


Both worry that people like Jon have little options as adults.  “It’s about offering a choice,” xplained Heighten. ““We’re trying to create something that would provide an enriched quality of life, so that people like Jon eventually require less supervision,”


In October 2015, the couple invested $745,000 to purchase the land, and last year created a nonprofit called 29 Acres to raise money for the project.


They have had $1 million committed, predominantly from a handful of other North Texas families who also have children with autism.  The hope is to break ground on construction by the fall.


Though early in its development, the project is already catching the attention of local and national autism experts, who say there is demand for innovative models to help transition children with autism into adulthood.


About 50,000 students with autism exit high school each year in the U.S. and an estimated half million will enter adulthood over the next decade, according to a 2015 report from the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute in Philadelphia.


The lifetime cost of supporting an individual with autism is $2.4 million if the person has intellectual disability, and at least 40 percent do, according to a 2014 study in JAMA Pediatrics. Health care economists estimate the yearly cost of autism in the United States is $236 billion.


The initial design includes space for a 7,100-square-foot community center, and 15 homes of around 3,000 square feet that can be divided into duplexes or quads and house 56 people.


Four homes will be built during Phase One, and the first set of residents could move in by 2018.


When complete, the complex will employ about 200 full- and part-time staff, including security guards, administration and one-on-one specialists who are experienced in living with and caring for people with developmental challenges.